Using transdisciplinary approaches, we generate knowledge and tools to address critical long-term global and national challenges arising from rapid and far-reaching social, economic, technological and environmental change.

The legitimacy of knowledge and its role in informing societal decisions is at the heart of what we do. We take a long-term view on these fast-changing transformations driving and being driven in part by science and technology.

Our research themes focus on five areas:

▼ How we integrate knowledge and policy in a post-truth world
▼ Understanding risks to societal resilience and social cohesion
▼ Technological transformation
▼ Trade-offs and the sustainability agenda
▼ Building individual resilience in the face of rapid change

How we integrate knowledge and policy in a post-truth world

In a world of rapid access to information (both reliable and unreliable), and increased scepticism about authority, societies are searching for trustworthy information. We will seek new ways to use evidence and inclusive deliberation to counter the impacts of misinformation and declining trust.

We combine the scientific disciplines, both natural and social, to provide collaborative advice that can help policy makers and civil society better understand the issues. We are developing methodologies to allow traditionally disempowered stakeholders, and others such as the business community, to participate more fully.

Understanding risks to societal resilience and social cohesion

Societal resilience and social cohesion are key to our wellbeing as a species. There is a need to understand the evolving challenges of a world undergoing rapid technological, sociological, environmental and economic disruption. We live in complex communities which are increasingly polarised and fragmented. These are central issues for all advanced economies and liberal democracies. The Centre is leading a global study to gain better insight into resilience and cohesion across diverse contexts.

Technological transformation

We are seeing unprecedented technological innovation both in the digital and life sciences potentially affecting every aspect of our lives. We are increasingly recognising that all technologies have upsides and downsides. With the rapid emergence of disruptive technologies of global reach, current regulatory processes may not be optimal. Societies and policy makers need to reflect on what kind of processes are necessary to manage technological transformation and the issues that need to be considered.

Our team has an established reputation in studying the interactions between the digital revolution and concepts of human wellbeing. Our work in this area has already led to a highly influential international report, Understanding wellbeing in the context of rapid digital and associated transformations, and a recently published book Ingenious: The Unintended Consequences of Human Innovation (Harvard University Press).  The issues of wellbeing in the digital age are closely linked to social cohesion, societal and individual resilience.

Trade-offs and the sustainability agenda

The political, policy and public implications of the inevitable choices needed to advance the broad sustainability agenda need to be better understood. Often the trade-offs necessary are either ignored or not properly addressed in the discourses of advocacy or short-term politics.

We are developing a toolkit designed to assist understanding of complexity when there are multiple conflicting but desirable goals. We have been working with the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission to create a process that can be used within communities, organisations and businesses but especially with policy makers. It is a tool to model and understand the types of trade-offs and considerations needed. While initially built around the challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the toolkit will have much broader application.

Building individual resilience in the face of rapid change 

Rapid technological innovation poses a particular challenge for humans. This is because both the pace and scale of our innovative capacities challenge the psychological resilience of individuals.

Our first focus will be on promoting the resilience of young people and adolescents to the dramatic changes they face. Global and national statistics on increasing mental health concerns in adolescents are alarming. The reasons for this need to be understood in more than superficial terms and the Centre is addressing these factors in work supported by the Tindall Foundation.

Secondly, the challenges of disadvantage in childhood and its consequent effects on emotional and behavioural development are large and problematic for the policy community despite political goodwill. The numerous research communities related to childhood development are isolated from each other and fail to integrate rapidly evolving knowledge. Working with global partners, we bring together a broad range of disciplines from neuroscience to sociology, to better understand this critical period of development. Ultimately this will lead to better policy options for diagnosis and management.

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